An interviewer stands outside the shamiana erected for the convocation ceremony. Speaking into the camera, she says: “Welcome viewers to a lovely day. I am here to cover an occasion that many of us have longed for. The day we pass out and embark on this journey called life-hopefully a little wiser and a bit stronger.We begin our show today with thoughts from those who are at the very centre if this wonderful chaos. The students themselves”. With this, she turns around to the eager crowd milling outside the tent. Too glad to be a part of the spotlight, these creatures proceed to start a big speech about the college, their times and their friends. Some of them seem drunk and some bring their parents along to ensure that the newspaper that this interviewer proclaims she belongs to,carries a sepia memory for them to sigh at years later. Some of them click pictures along with the journalist forcing her to crack a smile for the benefit of the camera.
Some eye her and still some more try to hit on her. Slightly nauseous at this display of human emotions, she disappears for a moment and can soon be found in an empty washroom washing her hands repeatedly as if what took place can simply be swept away by the trickle of water from the faucet. She trembles and then takes a deep breath to steady herself. She comes out again and makes her way to the tent.
Along the way she spots a woebegone dressed in tatters which barely cover him. He is staring at the steady stream of his fellow creatures that is entering the tent. They are barely paying attention to this mendicant who is observing them with rapt attention. The few who notice him, try to shrug the uneasiness off either by cracking jokes at his attire or by pretending they never saw him in the first place. These tactics make him grin and she is shocked to find that his teeth are in perfect condition. She gives him a second once-over and notices that even though his clothes are hanging for dear life from his emaciated body, they look neat and well taken care of.
A far cry, she thinks silently, to the scores of dusty shoes she had seen adorning the feet of those who are congratulating themselves of having finally arrived. She approaches him a trifle hesitantly and as if sensing the movement, he turns and catches her eye. He smiles and she suddenly feels something lighting up within her-something that makes her feel like running up to him and giving him a hug. Surprised at this reaction her mind has conjured up, she keeps walking and tries hard to hide her unsettled visage.
The first question that pops out of her mouth the moment she is close, is a question that many seem to be thinking and are too afraid to ask- “Who are you?”. He thinks for some time and for some unfathomable reason, he decides to take the route of honesty- “I am an alumnus of this college. At that time,I hadn’t managed to get a company to accept me. Dejected, I returned home only to find that the place I called my home had been laid to waste because of the chemical spill that took the lives of every single one in that area. As I looked around at the disintegrated corpses, I cursed my fate and tried to kill myself by drinking from one of the ponds which had infected water. But fate decided to play a cruel game with me. The chemical ate away my insides but I survived. I came back to my college and took a job as a watchman and every year since, I stand outside the tent reliving the memories.”
He looks at her after having finished and finds her sobbing quietly. He pats her hand and waits for her to regain her composure. He then asks her as to what she’s doing here. She tries to tell him that she is a journalist but her stops her mid-way. “I know enough of this world to understand the truth dear. Let’s start again, shall we?”. Discomfited at this, she looks at her feet and the flowers caressing her shoes. Something gives her courage and she says-
“I am an alumnus too. I passed out jobless like you. I come back every year since to pose as a journalist and hope that I get an audience with the chief guest of that year and persuade him to take me under his wing.”
The fellow alumnus observes:” So you practise what you had been taught in this school then? The art of selling? “
She just smiles in response and they go back to looking at the ceremony- both removed from it and also and united by it.